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Halloween is once again right around the corner and that means dressing up to go trick or treating, bobbing for apples, and carving pumpkins to have ghoulish faces. But where did these traditions come from?
According to History.com, Halloween as we know it today is a combination of Pagan, Gaulic, Celtic, and ancient Roman traditions. The Celtic people believed it was important to honor their dead, and they did so with the ritual of Samhain or “summers night” in old Irish. This ritual took place on Oct. 31, because it was the last day of their calendar and marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter.
Celts believed that on their New Year’s Eve, the line between the dead and the living was blurred, allowing spirits to cross over. Many would dress as ghostly figures in an attempt to fool potentially malicious spirits into thinking they were ghosts as well.
In 43 A.D., the Romans invaded and conquered most of the Celtic territory. In the 400-year span that they held rule there, traditions fused with one another. One was Feralia, a holiday in late October to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. A common symbol of Pomona is the apple. This holiday became incorporated into Samhain where the tradition of bobbing for apples comes from.
Carving pumpkins also comes from the Celts. According to LiveScience, the Celts would carve faces onto turnips and squash, then place a light inside in the hopes it would lead the good spirits to their homes. When the tradition spread to America, pumpkins were chosen, because they were bountiful and were easy to carve. The term jack o’ lantern is derived from an Irish legend about a farmer named Jack, who made a bargain with the devil that left him wandering the Earth for all time with a pumpkin for a head.
The practice of trick-or-treating was largely born in Ireland where kids would dress up and go house-to-house asking for money and food. Playing pranks was common, and to avoid that, children were offered a treat in exchange for their good behavior. In America, the people there were largely Protestant, who were against Halloween. When the Irish potato famine drove many out of Ireland, many fled to America, bringing their trick-or-treat traditions with them. A national movement was then put in place in America that insisted it be focused on community and neighborly get-togethers instead of being all about ghosts and pranks. Because of this movement, the holiday lost much of its superstitious and religious edge.
Halloween as we know it, with costumes of licensed characters, began in the 1920’s with companies such as Collegeville Flag and Manufacturing Company. After World War II, Ben Cooper would become the leading company in the children’s Halloween costume business. By the 1960’s, Ben Cooper owned between 70 and 80 percent of the Halloween costume market. Costumes could be had of everything from Donald Duck, Superman, Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, Dennis the Menace, the Beatles, and everything in between.